Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission


October 11, 1999
CONTACTS: (wildlife and freshwater issues) Henry Cabbage (850) 488-8843 (marine issues) Lee Schlesinger (850) 487-0554

New rules, requiring that in all counties, hunting dogs must wear a collar or tag which identifies the owner and that dog-hunters must have written permission from landowners, will take effect in approximately 30 days.

Since 1997, the rules have been in force in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Jackson and Calhoun counties. The former Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (now known as the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or FWC) adopted "hunter responsibility rules" for those eight counties in response to complaints from residents who said some dog hunters were not respecting their property boundaries.

Meanwhile, judges in Walton, Washington and Calhoun have ruled that the hunter responsibility rules are unconstitutional unless they apply to the entire state. FWC general counsel, Jim Antista, won Commission approval on his recommendation to adopt the measure statewide to head off additional constitutional challenges.

During its Oct. 6-8 meeting in St. Petersburg, the Commission also established Lee County manatee protection zones, where boat operators must abide by speed limits and no-entry regulations. The new rule is in response to the fact that watercraft (including boats) account for 90 percent of the manatee deaths caused by humans in Lee County where large numbers of the endangered animals congregate during winter months.

Commissioners also approved a staff petition to begin the process of removing the peregrine falcon from the state's list of endangered species and adding the flatwoods salamander to the threatened species list. The process will also involve a review of the staff's findings by a team of independent scientists, public input and establishment of a species management plan before the changes become official.

The Commission approved establishment of the 20,395-acre Kissimmee River Public Use Area in Polk, Osceola, Highlands and Okeechobee counties. Hunting regulations for the area will take effect in approximately 30 days.

Commissioners also approved a rule to prohibit importation or possession of venomous sea snakes and adopted a series of wildlife regulation changes and rule changes for certain wildlife management areas (WMAs). Changes included establishment and re-establishment of various WMAs and removal of the Escambia River WMA from the WMA program, at the request of the landowner, and setting spring turkey hunt regulations and hunter quotas for proposed new turkey hunts on WMAs.

Division of Freshwater Fisheries staff presented plans for an extreme drawdown of Lake Griffin, tentatively scheduled fomr 2001, to revitalize the lake's health and re-establish its food chain.

In other business, the Commission heard a report concerning its legislative agenda for 2000 and recognized retired law enforcement officer Roy Martinez for his 27 years of service. Also, the Shikar-Safari Club International presented its 1999 Wildlife Officer of the Year award to Stephen D. Wayne.

Regarding marine issues, the FWC approved a rule that specifies that a legal cast net can have a stretched length (the distance from the horn at the center of the net, with the net gathered and pulled taut, to the lead line) no greater than 14 feet.

The FWC also adopted changes to shrimp harvesting regulations, primarily for Biscayne Bay waters in Dade County, including eliminating the count law (minimum size limit) for food shrimp harvested in Dade County, establishing an Oct. 15 - May 15 allowable harvesting season for food shrimp in Biscayne Bay (with a 6 a.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday closed period to food shrimp harvest each week during this open season), and prohibiting the use of frame nets by recreational fishermen to harvest shrimp in Dade County. The Commission also voted to designate shrimp as a "restricted species" statewide, effective Jan. 1, 2001.

In addition, the Commission approved various reef fish rule amendments, including merging amberjack rules into the current reef fish rule chapter, conforming amberjack commercial licensing requirements to those of reef fish (with a clarification that the appropriate federal commercial permit is a condition of sale for all species in the rule), eliminating the five-day commercial season closure extension in the reef fish rule, restoring the documentation requirement for reef fish species possessed during a closure period, including a one-fish-daily vessel limit for speckled hind and warsaw grouper within the five-fish grouper aggregate bag limit, and increasing the maximum size limit for banded rudderfish and lesser amberjack from 20 to 22 inches in length.

In other action, the FWC voted to hold the final public hearing in December on a proposed rule for the recreational harvest of Gulf of Mexico red snapper that would establish an April 15 - Oct. 31 open season, a minimum size limit of 16 inches total length and a daily bag limit of 4 fish per person for this species in Gulf state waters. The Commission further directed staff to encourage federal fisheries managers to adopt this plan in all Gulf waters.

Commissioners also:

received a spotted seatrout stock assessment and directed staff to present management options for this fishery at the December meeting, directed staff to continue development of a management plan for horsehoe crabs to protect this species while allowing historical Florida harvesting practices, agreed that the recently certified Jones Davis bycatch reduction device be allowed in Florida shrimp trawls, and received reports and public comment regarding the gill netting of pompano and the status of the snook fishery.

The Commission also considered various federal reef fisheries management issues, and voted to close Atlantic state waters to the recreational harvest of red porgy through March 5, 2000 and increased the minimum size limit for king mackerel from 20 to 24 inches fork length.

These actions conform with recent federal rule changes.

The next FWC meeting is scheduled for Dec. 8-10 at a location to be announced later.